Women and Food Relationship: 10 Resources for Getting on Top of this Weighty Issue


I’ve noticed a remarkable phenomenon. As a functional/integrative medicine specialist, a lot of women come to me wanting to get a handle on their weight. Yet few women say that they want to lose weight primarily to look better. Of course that’s a part of it, but interestingly, most women say that what they really want is to feel more in control of their eating habits.

The bottom line is that food is not pleasurable for a great many women – including those who are slim and full-bodied alike. Eating is fraught with confusion, guilt, regret, negative self-talk, and hamster wheel dieting. Women are in a food battle replete with restrictions and diets, binges and purges – whether through fasts, intensive exercise, frequent saunas, and even laxatives, enemas, and behaviors potentially on the level of an eating disorder.

Many women face the struggles known well to addicts trying hard to kick a habit – and in fact, as I discussed in my article Food Addictions: Why They’re Not Your Fault, Why You’re Not a Bad Girl for Having Them, and 7 Ways To Kiss Them Goodbye!, food addictions are a real struggle for many of us.

Yet a good relationship with food is central to health. Our relationship with food is the trigger for the food choices we make – not just what we eat, but how and why we eat.

Eating pleasure is also paramount to excellent digestion. In a sense, our food should “turn us on” – that is, get our digestive juices flowing!  I wrote about this in How to Love Eating! 5 Mindfulness Tips for Healing Your Relationship with Food. Joy and well-being also keep our nervous systems humming along, which in turn keeps our immune system healthy. This means less inflammation, fewer aches and pains, fewer headaches, colds, and easier periods if you’re still cycling. It also means fewer heart attacks and strokes which are big killers of women. So it’s not just the actual nutrition that foods give our body that prevents heart disease, cancer, and diabetes – it’s our experience of food, as well, that is so important.

I rarely approach a woman’s weight concerns from a “lose weight” perspective – we know that for most women, “dieting” doesn’t really work, at least not sustainably. I work with my patients to heal their relationships with food and help them learn to make healthy food choices. This often means healing their relationship with their self-esteem, and may even require digging deep into the origins of food and eating dysfunction. Food issues run deep in many women’s memories.

Below you will find some of my favorite resources and tips on food, mindful eating, and healing. I welcome you to take part in a veritable feast of food and healing inspiration.

1. Food & Spirit: Deanna Minich is committed to helping you to nourish your root. Food & Spirit takes nutrition into the realm of “complete” nourishment, feeding your inner and outer landscapes. She offers a free blog as well as courses for professionals and regular folks.

2. Tip: Shift out of Autopilot Eating: Ever eaten and not even remembered that you chewed your food? Make your next dinner a mindful occasion. Turn off the TV. Put away your pile of paperwork and even the newspaper. Eat with attention to the taste of food. To the textures. The those who grew, harvested, sold, and prepared the food so that it could be on your plate. Appreciate your food. Enjoy.

3. Stop Sugar Addiction: My pal and colleague Dr. Mark Hyman learned to overcome his own sugar addiction and has helped thousands of others do the same. His book The Blood Sugar Solution is a great guide to healthful eating (and safe weight loss for health promotion).

3. Dr. Susan Albers says that “Mindful eating is not a diet. There are no menus or recipes. It is being more aware of your eating habits, the sensations you experience when you eat, and the thoughts and emotions that you have about food. It is more about how you eat than what you eat.” I love her accessible website Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful, with plenty of free tools including fun and motivational posters. 

4. Mindful Eating as Food for Thought is a solid piece on mindful eating resources. If you like the New York Times writing style, you’ll find this a good read.

5. Walter Willett is one of my favorite nutrition writers – in fact, he’s one of the most prolific nutrition scientists in the world. He demystifies food choices and reminds us that food = health = pleasure in his Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy.

6. Not a book on food or eating in the least, but a book on healing anxiety and getting our minds in harmony, Mind Whispering by Tara Bennett-Goleman is a beautiful read if you are on a journey to heal your relationship with yourself, whether around eating or anything else. I highly recommend reading it before bed for a restful sleep.

7. Ok, I’ll admit it, I haven’t read this one yet, but with an author duo like Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung who is an incredible woman, mother, nutrition scientist, and one of Walter Willett’s research partners, how can you go wrong? And the title is Savor which is what I believe we should be doing with food – and life – so it’s high on my next read list.

8. “The way you eat is inseparable from your core beliefs about being alive. No matter how sophisticated or wise or enlightened you believe you are, how you eat tells all. The world is on your plate. When you begin to understand what prompts you to use food as a way to numb or distract yourself, the process takes you deeper into realms of spirit and to the bright center of your own life. Rather than getting rid of or instantly changing your conflicted relationship with food…it is about welcoming what is already here, and contacting the part of yourself that is already whole – divinity itself.” ~ Geneen Roth

9. It’s not an accident that we struggle with food addictions. Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us isn’t necessarily news, but it’ll get you in the fighting spirit, as in “Hell no, You ain’t controlling this body of mine!” The book is worth reading but if you’re on a money or time budget, the article You Really Can’t Eat Just One covers the salient points.

10. With books liked Cooked, Food Rules, and In Defense of Food Michael Pollan gets you in touch with nourishment as something that has to do with home, hearths, earth, nature – it puts food into our hands – and this is part of reestablishing healthy relationships: food in our kitchens, in our pots, in our gardens when we can, even if it’s some potted herbs in a city windowsill. Read and be nourished. And you can even just google Michael Pollan – you’ll find plenty of free articles for your reading pleasure!

“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us be much more than what we are.” ~ Adelle Davis

“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” ~ Rashaski Zen Proverb

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ~ Virginia Woolf

 

 

Remember, if you enjoyed this blog, please SHARE IT, LIKE IT, JOIN MY WEBSITE, and POST YOUR COMMENTS below.

With wishes for your deepest well-being and nourishment,

XOXO,

AJR-Sig

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Read or leave comments 14 Comment


Generic placeholder image
Mikayla

Thanks for the books suggestions! i always appreciate your care from afar.

Reply

Generic placeholder image
Jennifer Gardner, MD

As part of our child wellness and pediatric weight management program, we spend a lot of time teaching parents about mindful eating and how to allow children to maintain (or reconnect with) their internal satiety signals. This promotes a healthy feeding relationship between parent and child AND child and food! I am sure you would agree, many of the patients you see as adults developed their feeding issues in childhood. And these women (and men) are often raising families and passing these feeding insecurities to their children. I applaud any parent (and physician) seeking to break this cycle. Jennifer A. Gardner, MD, FAAP, Founder, Healthy Kids Company www.healthykidscompany.com

Reply

Generic placeholder image
Sarah

Thank you! I love your articles and your perspective.

Reply

Generic placeholder image
Jennfier

Aviva, I first discovered your work when a doula/yoga instructor recommended your postpartum care book to me (and through that I found your pregnancy book). You advice via your books has been a wonderful help to me over the last few years and helped me through some critical pregnancy issues. One thing that puzzles me though and I wish you yourself would write a book on this, is how you reconcile the different ways of eating recommended in the books above and how you feed your family this way? Walter Willett doesn't really forbid any food except those with chemicals and the like. I like his take on eating. Moderation and balance are what he seems to recommend, a Mediterranean style diet. Very doable and pleasurable. But then you read other authors who say dairy is terrible for you or recommend a very extreme way of eating--little to no meat, lots of grains, lots of veg, little fruit, no sugar ever. I know you highly recommend Dr. Barnett's books but I checked out one of his and it is very extreme to me. You have even written that you haven't consumed sugar since you were 15. Can this be true? I don't doubt your sincerity, I doubt my understanding. Did your children have birthday cakes growing up and did you eat any of them? Sometimes in this world of healthy eating, I feel like the advice runs between extremes. I wish I could go back to the days when I read French Women Don't Get Fat, learned how to eat better in general (forsaking chemicals and fake fats etc) and left it there. Ever since I started reading books like The Kind Diet (and I was vegan for 4 months after that), I feel like I am on some merry-go-round of what really is healthy to eat. Dr. Willett would tell me cheese in moderation, even regular moderation, is fine. But others would tell me it is cancer-causing etc. I love cheese but I now feel tremendous guilt when I eat it. My skin does tend to break out when I eat it so I know it can't be great for me. And let's not even think about the poor mama cows and baby cows. See what I mean?

Reply

    Generic placeholder image
    aviva

    Hi Jennifer, GREAT Question. I think the most important bit of advice I can give is to listen to your body. If you notice a symptom then this is an indication that something might not be an optimal food for you. Dr Willett, in my opinion, offers the most sensible nutrition advice. Moderation -- absolutely. Mediterranean style great! Sometimes, when women have specific health problems then more specific dietary changes or restrictions might be appropriate. And some women just don't tolerate dairy. Natural, whole foods are always best for our bodies and the environment! As for my kids, we have always made their birthday cakes. In the early years I used maple syrup or honey, and made them dairy free. In retrospect, not so delicious! As they got older we started to make cakes with organic cane sugar. Not sure where I wrote that I haven't ever had sugar since I was 15 -- I did adapt a natural diet at that age and stopped eating commercially made non-food junk and sweets. But I've definitely had some sugar here and there -- though it is not a regular part of my diet by any means. I use honey in my tea, have dark chocolate, and occasionally a baked good -- usually whole food based. I am not a restricter, though, and simply follow what feels healthiest, which varies throughout my cycle and seems to be changing as I get older. I definitely believe that food is one of life's greatest sensory pleasures and that life- - and food -should be enjoyed! More food and nutrition blogs to come! Thanks for writing!

    Reply

Generic placeholder image
Jennfier

PS - I have read Dr. Barnett's books but I meant to write Dr. Hyman. I checked one of his books out from the library.

Reply

Generic placeholder image
Kim Palka, ND

Thank you for these suggestions, Aviva. I agree, I agree, I agree! I encourage new relationships with food and eating with so many of the women I work with also. It's helpful to have new perspectives, different words and viewpoints...you never know which one is going to turn the light on for someone and CHANGE THEIR LIFE!!!! (And sending good vibes for Boards)!

Reply

Generic placeholder image
Meg Turner

Aviva: I've enjoyed your bright perspective for many years now, ever since I first met you in 2005 at the AHG conference in Portland, OR. I wish you well for the boards, and look forward to many more encounters online with you. I have a couple of questions for you: as someone who's studied herbs for years, I've recently begun a new awareness of the "sweet, salty, fat" cycle in the food industry and how it impacts my eating habits. Can you recommend how we can eat less of these without feeling "deprived?" Also when are you offering your next series of the Women 's Health forum? I'd be very interested in taking it with you! Best wishes on a stellar board experience!

Reply

    Generic placeholder image
    aviva

    hi meg! great question and thank you for your kind words. answer in short and for real: good quality protein, good quality dark chocolate. the protein keeps us satisfied and full so we have fewer cravings. the dark chocolate, well, what can i say -- it's sweet, healthy, and a couple of squares are a safe go to several times/week if you do want a little something something! :) aviva

    Reply

Generic placeholder image
Meg Turner

Aviva: Congratulations in advance on what I'm sure will be a stellar board experience! I've been a fan of your herbal practice and now look forward to sound and integrated medical advice regarding food, food habits, and how we can be in charge of this experience! Recently I"ve become aware of the effects that diet history and one ingredient (gluten) can make all the difference! Here's to many more articles about this particular subject! Also will be signing up soon for your webinar class~:)

Reply

Generic placeholder image
Chara

Good luck on your boards, dear Aviva! And thanks for this ever-wise and resource-rich blog.

Reply

Generic placeholder image
Myriam

Thank you for the references! Such helpful and generous information. Sending you BIG CHEERS from the sidelines as you oh into your boards.

Reply

Generic placeholder image
Beverlie

Wow!!! This is really amazing....Thank you for the information...Truly appreciate it.

Reply
196 Shares
Share
Tweet
Pin
Share
Email